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There are so many reasons to grow vegetables vertically. Maybe you want to grow more food in less space or reduce the occurrence of soil-borne diseases. Or, maybe you want to add an ornamental element to your food garden, deck, or patio with a tunnel, A-frame trellis or obelisk. Once you’ve picked your trellis, the fun part begins – selecting what to grow. So, what are the best vegetables for a trellis?
Why trellis your vegetables?
As noted above, there are a lot of benefits to growing vegetables vertically, but for me, these are the four most important reasons to use a trellis:
- Save space and grow MORE food – It’s true! You can expect a larger harvest when you grow vining types of vegetables up a trellis. For example, according to Cornell University, pole beans yield two to three times the harvest of bush beans when grown in the same amount of space.
- Reduce disease and insect damage – Trellising vegetables like indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, and vining squash can reduce insect damage and the spread of diseases. How? By improving air circulation around the plants and also keeping the foliage off the ground where soil-borne diseases can quickly spread.
- Easy harvesting – The older I get, the more I appreciate trellised crops – no need to bend over to harvest my beans and cucumbers! Plus, it’s far easier to spot the pea pods, snap beans, and cucumber fruits when the plants are growing vertically.
- Clean, straight fruits – When growing edible gourds, squash like Tromboncino, and cucumbers on a trellis, the fruits grow straight and are not spattered with dirt.
5 Types of trellises:
There are a LOT of different types of trellises that can be used to grow vegetables vertically. You can buy trellises at garden centres or online, or you can DIY you own with bamboo posts, garden netting, garden twine, stakes, and other supplies.
- Bamboo teepees – A bamboo teepee is a classic, easy-to-build trellis ideal for crops like pole beans, peas, and even cucumbers. I use five eight-foot tall bamboo posts (or straight saplings), spacing them evenly around a four-foot diameter section of the garden. Push the posts ten to twelve-inches into the earth and secure the tops of the posts together with heavy-duty twine.
- A-frame trellises – A-frame trellises can be bought or built and have two flat sides that are joined together at the top to form an A-shape. In the past, I’ve built the panels from lumber with hinges at the top and each side covered in netting, chicken wire, or larger wire mesh panels. A-frame trellises are typically quite strong, depending on the materials, and can be used for beans, peas, gourds, melons, squash, and cucumbers.
- Arbors, arches, and tunnels – I love my bean tunnels! (check them out HERE). Mine are made from four by eight-foot concrete reinforced mesh panels. You could also use hog wire panels, which I found hard to source locally. The bottom of the panels are secured to my raised beds with wooden slats and at the top with zip ties. I grow a wide variety of vining vegetables over my tunnels, as well as plenty of climbing flowers too, like nasturtiums and morning glories. You can also add beautiful garden arches and arbors between raised beds or at the entrance to a vegetable garden to support vertical crops.
- Obelisks, towers, and pyramids – Obelisks, bean towers, and pyramids are extremely ornamental trellises often made from metal or wood and perfect for adding style to your veggie garden. Of course, you can DIY a temporary one from bamboo and twine or, if you’re handy, build a permanent wooden structure.
- Wire mesh trellises – Many types of trellises can be made with wire mesh panels. Some are called cucumber trellises, but you can also use wire mesh panels to build upright supports too. Along the back of my food garden I’ve attached five-foot tall wooden stakes to the back of the raised beds to support four by eight panels of concrete reinforced mesh panels. The panels are zip tied to the wooden stakes. These simple-to-build trellises hold heavy crops like my snake gourds which yield five to six-foot long fruits. I also use them to grow cucumbers, pole beans, runner beans, and peas.
- Posts and netting or twine – One of the most basic types of trellises you can build is made from sturdy posts and netting or twine. Insert posts at either end of the bed and hang pea and bean netting or mesh netting between the supports. Depending on the length of your beds, you may need another post or two in the middle for added strength. I’ve used these trellises for peas and pole beans. If a stronger trellis is needed for heavier crops, you can use wire panels instead of pea and bean netting between the posts.
Growing vegetables on a trellis:
Before you head to the garden centre or order a trellis online, consider what are the best types of vegetables for a trellis and how they climb. Some crops, like pole beans are vigorous climbers, while others, like indeterminate tomatoes need to be secured to their support as they grow. Crop type should play a role in what type of trellis you choose to buy.
Plants can climb in different ways – via tendrils, twining, or scrambling up their supports. Pole beans, which twine around posts are a natural match for a bamboo teepee. Cucumbers, which use tendrils to climb, grow well up wire mesh trellises or those made with sturdy wooden posts and twine. No matter what type of trellis you choose to use, erect it before you plant seeds or seedlings. Waiting to put up the trellis once the seedlings are growing can result in damage to the plants, reducing or delaying the harvest. Are you ready to learn the best vegetables for a trellis? Read on!
The best vegetables for a trellis:
Pole beans are one of the best vegetables for a trellis. Not only are they easy to grow, but they’re enthusiastic climbers and quickly cover a trellis, teepee, netting, or other support with no extra help. Pole beans also have a far longer harvest window than bush beans and many bean lovers would argue they have a better flavor. They do take longer than bush beans to go from seed to harvest, but once the vines begin to produce, harvesting is easy on the back – no stooping or bending!
Green – Emerite, Fortex, Kentucky Wonder
Yellow – Gold Marie, French Gold
Purple – Purple Peacock, Purple Podded Pole
Peas are one of the first crops we direct seed in mid-spring, once the soil is workable. There are many types and varieties of peas to grow and those that climb taller than three-feet should be supported with some type of trellis. You can use an expandable wire pea trellis or even simple stakes hung with netting. Just remember that mature pea vines are very heavy and whatever type of trellis you use will need to be very strong. Pick peas every day or two once the pods are a harvestable size. For a fall crop of peas, sow seeds in early summer and provide ample moisture to encourage healthy growth.
Snap peas – Super Sugar Snap, Sugar Snap, Sugar Magnolia
Snow peas – Golden Sweet, Mammoth Melting Sugar
Shell peas – Alderman Tall Telephone, Laxton’s Progress
When growing cucumbers on a trellis, choose vining, not bush varieties. When I first starting growing cucumbers I grew them on the ground, letting the vigorous vines sprawl in every direction. Today, I only grow them on trellises (bush varieties are grown on tomato cages) as I’ve found it to be a serious space saver, but my vertically-grown plants are also less affected by diseases like powdery mildew. I also love growing cucumber relatives like cucamelons and burr gherkins on our sturdy trellises. They offer unique fruits that taste fantastic!
Slicers – Suyo Long, Diva, Tastygreen
Small-fruited – Picolino, Socrates, Homemade Pickles
Unusual – Lemon, Crystal Apple, Dragon’s Egg
Summer squash vines can be considered garden thugs, taking up valuable growing space and choking out neighbors. While many types of summer squash have bush or semi-vining plants which can be hard to trellis, there are a few varieties that produce longer plants which can be grown vertically. Like tomatoes, they’re not natural climbers, so I find the easiest way to secure squash vines to the trellis is to weave the branches – carefully – through the wire or nylon mesh. You can also use heavy-duty twine to loosely tie the stems to the trellis.
Climbing squash – Costata Romanesca, Tromboncino
Indeterminate tomatoes, also called vining tomatoes are not natural climbers and need to be secured to a trellis as they grow. I use twine or tomato clips to hold the branches in place. You may wonder why you should bother to trellis them if they don’t climb on their own, but trellising indeterminate tomatoes is essential in reducing the occurrence or impact of diseases like early blight. It also allows more even light on the plant which can boost yield.
Large fruited – Brandywine, Big Rainbow, Pineapple, Cherokee Purple, Lillian’s Yellow
Medium fruited – Jaune Flamme, Defiant, Garden Peach
Small fruited – Sungold, Jasper, Black Cherry, Valentine
Save serious space in your garden or greenhouse beds by growing melons on a heavy-duty trellis. Encourage them to climb by weaving the vines through the trellis, like a wire A-frame trellis, as they grow. Medium and large-fruited melons need to be supported in a sling as the fruits grow and mature. A sling is easy to make from lengths of pantyhose. Secure the ‘pantyhose hammock’ to your trellis so that the weight of the fruit is supported by the sling.
Melons – Torpedo, Hannah’s Choice, Montreal Melon, Queen Anne’s
Unique melons – I love muskmelons, like Armenian cucumbers, that are often classified in seed catalogs as cucumbers.
For further reading on the best vegetables for a trellis, check out THIS awesome book on vertical vegetable gardening. Do you have a favorite type of trellis? Tell us about it in the comments.
Learn more about growing vertical vegetables in the following articles:
- Build your own pole bean tunnels
- Growing cucumbers vertically
- Vertical veggie garden projects
- Growing cucamelons in a garden